A war with an equal

In Valmiki’s Ramayana, the war between Ram and Ravan is described as the war when the world stood still. And how did two evenly matched heroes fare in this keenly-watched battle?
The 107th canto of the Yuddhakanda of Valmiki’s Ramayana is a description of a fierce war between two warriors of the kind the world had never seen before. Matching arrow for arrow, mace for mace, missile for missile, Ram is driven around by Matali, Indra’s charioteer, in the chariot of the king of the gods. Ravan’s own chariot is described as awesome and resplendent, while his unnamed charioteer is heroic and devoted to the ogre-king even as defeat looms.
Valmiki is adept at observing nature. His references to birds, trees and hills do not cease simply because a battle is on. The mountains tremble, the underground-dwelling creatures come forth spewing fire, the sun appears dimmer (a subtle reference to the clouds of battle-dust) and the wind stands still, thanks to the impact of the fiery war. All the gods in heaven, the divine musicians (the gandharvas) and the mystical demigods (the siddhas) stop to watch, their hearts beating rapidly due to the anxiety.
The sages send up prayers and propitiations, mentally nudging Ram to victory with their chants: “Lokaastishtantu shaashvataah, jayataam raaghava samkhye, raavanam raakshaseshwaram…” (May the worlds last forever, may Ram defeat Ravan in battle !” Verse 49)
The combat between Ram and Ravan is fierce and causes one’s hair to stand on end — “Rama Ravana yor yuddham sughoram romaharshanam…” says Valmiki (Verse 50)
Even as these heavenly observers view the proceedings with keen interest, Ram shoots a serpent-arrow from his mighty bow, which has the effect of slicing Ravan’s head off his shoulders. In a rather gory aside, the poet tells us that the demon-king’s magnificent, gem-studded earrings show up as fiery orbs in the distance.
Apparently running out of similes or metaphors to chronicle this terrible war, and conscious of the need to faithfully describe the strength and valour of the two combatants who are almost equally matched, Valmiki resorts to a very interesting literary device. A figure of speech called the ananvaya is employed by the sage to show that the person being spoken of is peerless and serves as his own comparison:
“Gandharvaam sarasaam sanghaah drushtvaa yuddham anoopamam
Gaganam gaganaakaaram saagaram saagaropamah
Rama Ravana yor yuddham raama raavanayoriva
Evam bruvanto dadrushustad yuddham raama raavanam “
(Verses 51 and 52)
The poet says that celestial beings and nymphs watch this battle in fascination and observe: “A battle between Ram and Ravan can be compared only with a battle between Ram and Ravan, just as the sky is its own compeer and the sea is its own analogue.”

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